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Foster Care Fortnight: Exploring the essential work of foster carers in Scotland

Posted 25.05.23 by Alice Hinds

Every year, thousands of children in Scotland and around the UK require care because they are not able to live with their birth families, making foster carers essential for providing safe, secure and stable homes.

In Scotland, more than 4,000 children and young people currently use fostering services, yet the number of foster care households continues to decrease, with a 3.5% reduction between 2020 and 2021.

Here, as part of Foster Care Fortnight (15-28 May), which shines a light on the commitment, passion and dedication of foster carers, we look at some of the common questions surrounding the role.

Who can become a foster carer?

According to TACT, the UK’s largest fostering charity, most applicants will meet the criteria for becoming a foster carer, and there's no right or wrong background.

“TACT Scotland always needs more foster carers, especially those who can provide teenagers, children and young people with complex needs, as well as sibling groups, with a safe, stable and secure home – where they can build their self-confidence and move on to leading independent lives,” explained the charity. “If a person is over 21, has a spare bedroom and the willingness to provide a caring home to a vulnerable child or young person, TACT will consider their application.”

Sexuality, age, marital status, and whether a person owns their home do not determine suitability as a foster carer, and people from all walks of life are needed to help provide a stable and loving home.

Fostered children come from a diverse range of backgrounds, so having carers with different life experiences is essential, too.

Are siblings fostered together?

Due to Part 13 of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020, and the Looked After Children (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021, since last year, local authorities have a duty to place siblings with the same foster carer, where appropriate and possible. If a suitable home cannot be found for the whole family, siblings must be placed in foster care near to each other, and local authorities must also actively promote direct contact between siblings.

These guidelines are a step towards achieving The Promise, which was laid out by the Independent Care Review to ensure the voices of children and young people in care are heard and that sibling relationships are protected.

TACT explained: “TACT Scotland has more than 20 foster families caring for siblings. What is absolutely vital is the search for more foster carers who can accommodate sibling groups. In most cases, the best outcome for siblings in care is to stay together in the same family unit – but that is not possible without foster carers who have the space and experience.”

Case study: David, TACT foster carer in Scotland since 2018

Fostering is my full-time occupation. While I am the primary foster carer, my wife (Ruth) and I are very much a fostering team. When we applied to foster, our son was a baby, but we knew we could happily share our home and hearts with more children.

The children currently with us are the third set of siblings we have fostered – there is something especially satisfying knowing you are making it possible for siblings to stay together. It is challenging enough for children to go into care, but to then be separated from their brothers and sisters at such a difficult time must be really tough.

Seeing the unconditional love the siblings have for each other, and the special bond and mutual support they share, reinforces my belief that wherever possible, siblings should always be given the chance to stay together.

What ages are looked after by foster carers?

According to The Fostering Network, every 20 minutes another child comes into care and needs a foster family in the UK.

Children can be fostered from birth, right up until their 18th birthday, and legislation now exists to support young people to stay with their former foster carer up until the age of 21. Around two-fifths of children in care are aged 11 to 15 years, so finding foster carers for teenagers is a key priority.

TACT said: “There is a common misconception that teenagers who are in foster care are difficult, that they are in care because of something that they have done – but this is not the case. This myth is not only unfair on young people, but also the reason that many people rule themselves out of fostering teenagers.

“For people considering fostering teenagers, it is important to try to understand the young person’s background, the challenges that they may be experiencing and the impact that may have on their behaviour. They may have issues with trust and may ‘act out’ as a way of hiding fear or insecurity. As a foster carer being supportive is key, helping the young person to understand and manage their feelings, build their self-esteem, and gain their trust.”

What are the different types of fostering?

Foster carers don’t always look after children and young people full-time. Care can be required for a number of reasons, so foster placements vary to meet each specific need. Types of foster care include:

  • Short term fostering provides temporary care for children and young people whose care plan is uncertain. It is different from “short break” fostering, which allows a break for both the main foster carer and the young person.
  • Long term fostering is for children and young people who will not be returning to their birth family. This type of care requires a commitment from the foster carer to provide a safe home for as long as is needed, which may be up to 18 years old and beyond.
  • Specialist foster care is for children with complex needs, including physical disabilities, medical conditions or learning difficulties.
  • Emergency fostering means foster carers do not have the opportunity to meet the child or young person beforehand, and have to be ready to accept the child when they arrive, which may be with a duty social worker or the police.

Every foster carer is given full training to ensure they have the right skills to look after children and young people, and also receive a tax-free fostering allowance.

Click here for more information on Foster Care Fortnight (15-28 May 2023):

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News: Renewed calls for national minimum allowance for foster carers

Posted 4 November, 2022 by Jennifer Drummond

A new report has revealed a postcode lottery for funding for children, young people and the foster carers who look after them, leading to renewed calls for a national minimum allowance for foster carers to be implemented in Scotland.

The annual Foster Care Allowances report from The Fostering Network has identified discrepancies across age brackets and no increase in foster care allowances in some local authority areas for almost a decade.

Key findings from Scotland Foster Care Allowances Survey Report (click here to access) 2022-23 include:

  • Foster care allowances vary significantly within each age band. In a year, this difference can be as much as £6,954 per child
  • Only 11 local authorities in Scotland increased their foster care allowances in the past year
  • Nearly two-thirds of local authorities in Scotland have frozen their allowances in the past year
  • A third of fostering services have had the same allowance for seven years
  • Three local authorities in Scotland have had the same allowances for ten years or more.

This year’s key findings mirror last year’s, when the charity called for a national minimum allowance to be implemented by April 2022.

Jacqueline Cassidy, director of The Fostering Network Scotland, said:

“The continuing delay in the introduction of a national minimum allowance has had a direct impact on children in care and the foster carers who look after them. We need to help children and young people in care thrive.

The report follows the Fostering Network’s State of the Nation Foster Care 2021 survey (click here to access) which saw foster carers highlight the financial challenges and strain many of them were under due to a lack of sufficient funding and ongoing concerns over the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

Ms Cassidy continued:

“Around half of foster carers in Scotland already stated in our State of the Nation Foster Care survey 2021 survey, that the allowances they are given do not cover the costs of looking after a child, meaning they must dip into their own pockets. With inflation rates and the cost of living having significantly increased since then, the situation has only become worse. We are concerned that the cost-of-living crisis will create a crisis for our children and young people.

“Foster carers provide children who can no longer live with their birth families with stability, security and a positive and supportive home environment. Ensuring they are supported must be a priority. The Scottish Government needs to introduce a national minimum allowance now. This is a matter of urgency and cannot be delayed any further.”

Campaign for a national minimum allowance

In Scotland, approximately 4,500 children were living with foster families at the end of July 2021 in 3,540 approved foster care households. This accounts for approximately three-quarters of children in care looked after away from home and family.

Foster carers receive a weekly fostering allowance to cover the cost of caring for the child. Costs include food, clothes, toiletries, travel and all other expenses incurred. Allowances vary depending on the age of the child and usually increase on an annual basis in line with the cost of living and inflation. Scotland is currently the only country in the UK not to have a national minimum allowance.

A long-standing campaign by The Fostering Network, along with its members, led to a commitment in the 2016 Scottish National Party manifesto to implement a national minimum allowance for foster carers. A review of care allowances was conducted in 2017-18. A national minimum allowance is yet to be implemented.

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Comment: We've promised change. Now it's time to deliver

Posted 11 Aug, 2022 by Jennifer Drummond

A recent report has highlighted the unmet needs of young people in foster care, as well as the lack of support for foster carers. Something needs to change, writes Jacqueline Cassidy (pictured)

Foster care provides children with stability and security and offers some children their first positive experience of family life. It can help to improve children's mental wellbeing and educational outcomes. However, children's needs can't fully be met if the support they need from other services isn’t readily available to them.

The Fostering Network’s latest report (click here to read) shows that we are still failing to meet some of our children and young people’s most basic needs and uphold their rights, particularly when it comes to their health, education and cultural identity.

State of the Nation's Foster Care

The report is based on results from the State of the Nation’s Foster Care 2021 survey, which provides the most comprehensive insight into fostering in Scotland and across the UK. It gathers the views of foster carers who are providing support and care to thousands of children and young people. Their view strongly indicates that both local and national government are failing to meet their responsibility as a parent to these children.

Key findings are:

  • A quarter of foster carers were looking after at least one child who they felt needed mental health support but was not getting it.
  • Fifty-four per cent of foster carers were looking after at least one child who receives additional support to assist their learning. Of these foster carers, a quarter felt that the additional support was not sufficient.
  • Thirteen per cent of foster carers reported having looked after a child with suspected Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
  • Nine per cent of foster carers reported having looked after a child with a diagnosis of FASD, however, only a third received follow-up support post-diagnosis.
  • Fifty-five per cent of foster carers had not received any support or advice around supporting a child’s cultural and/or religious needs.
  • Scotland continues to have no minimum allowances for children’s needs despite multiple commitments from the Scottish Government.

Responsibilities of the state

Foster carers are dedicated to transforming children’s lives – but they cannot do this alone.

We are calling on national and local government across Scotland to ensure that children living in foster care are able to access all the services they are entitled to, and so desperately need; and that they are listened to by all agencies working with them.

Awareness-raising, training and support

We need to invest in awareness-raising, training and therapeutic approaches. This is so practitioners across all public sector organisations that support children have the understanding and skills they need to best support children with care experience.

Furthermore, we want to see a learning and development framework for foster carers introduced, such as that already in place in Wales, so foster carers can access the learning and development they feel they need to ensure the children in their care can thrive.

Working for change

So what are we doing? We continue to lobby the Scottish Government to introduce minimum allowances for children that are at least as good as the best allowances available in Scotland.

We are raising awareness and providing support to our members to positively engage with The Promise. Internally, we’ve committed to a review of our organisational language and framing of care so we can work towards eradicating the stigmatisation of care experience, and we’re investing in trauma training for our staff team.

The Fostering Network also continue to develop our participation opportunities for children and young people so we can protect and uphold their right to express their views and be heard. Most recently, we’ve launched a recruitment campaign to establish an advisory board of young people with experience of foster care or as a child of a foster carer, who will guide and inform some of our work.

In addition, we provide training and support to foster carers, and services and all those in the fostering community. We want to nurture and support those adults who care for our children and young people so that foster care is a positive, loving and supportive  experience that meets children and young people’s needs, and helps them thrive.

Foster carers provide children who can no longer live with their birth families with stability, security and a positive and supportive home environment. They help young people recover from trauma and encourage them to believe in and fulfil their potential. But they need to be supported by other services and with adequate funding.

We have committed to change, now we owe it to them to deliver.

Jacqueline Cassidy is Director of Practice and Scotland at The Fostering Network
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